I recently scooped up a cheap flight to Toronto that happened to coincide nicely with Canadian Thanksgiving, although next time I’ll give myself a few more days recovering from jet lag before hitting the feast itself, so I will actually remember it properly. Note to self: over-tiredness and a generously poured Riesling do not mix. Unless you want to cement your reputation as the loopiest member of the family when you’re not falling asleep in your ham.
My reasons for visiting were to see family and friends, walk the mean streets of Toronto from the perspective of being away for over a year, and compare it to my new life in Leeds. Oh, and eat a few meals that I have been craving for ages:
- Caplansky’s – haven’t been able to find Jewish deli food that tastes like home over here – it’s just different. My first bite of brisket on rye produced an “oh” sound that was half sensual, half heartache.
- Banjara – I have two experiments going on right now. I know what curries in Leeds are like, and wanted to see how my old fave, Banjara, measured up. I also have a Yorkshire native heading to Toronto next spring and I want to see what he thinks too. Banjara did fine, but living in the Leeds Bradford area means I don’t need a ticket home for amazing curries.
- Dim Sum at Kwan. Something all of my friends have in common is their ability to take me to restaurants that are exactly what I was craving, even if I didn’t know it. Went for lunch/brunch and noticed that I didn’t have dinner that night. That almost never happens.
- Bagels and cream cheese – yes, I know there’s Bagel Nash in Leeds, and they are very good, but bagels and cream cheese are simply ubiquitous in Toronto, meaning I could get my fix in the morning pretty much the moment I craved one, owing to the afore-mentioned ubiquitousness. It would be a bit like a bacon buttie over here.
- Despite a bit of effort, I didn’t make it to Terroni, and after a friend treated me to pizza at Mattachioni, I didn’t have to. Great pizza, fantastic wine list.
- Deep-fried pierogies – I missed the CNE this year, its Food Building and what I thought was my only chance at deep-fried pierogies, but my friend took me to the new Loaded Pierogi where I could simultaneously kill my craving for buffalo chicken and pierogi. You haven’t lived until you’ve had it deep fried.
I also returned home to pick up some much-needed supplies that I haven’t been able to find easily in the UK or were added to the list once I was Toronto-bound.
- Indoor temperature and humidity reader – we were quite cold in our house last winter and we were curious as to whether it was the temperature or the damp chill settling into the very marrow of our bones. Now we’ll be able to tell much more easily!
- Crest Pro-Health toothpaste – it was suggested that this was my only real reason for flying to Toronto, and well, they’re not wrong. Shopper’s Drug Mart even met me half way by having it on sale. Any friends or family heading over here, please pack some for me. It will become your rent for our guestroom. I hope you know I’m not kidding. And Crest – if you want to do a Tim Horton’s-style commercial of an expat’s aching need for your product, call me!
- A small (200 ml) bottle of Grand Marnier – as much as I love the fact that grocery stores, off-licences and little shops sell booze here, I do feel homesick for the huge selection and expertise the LCBO offers, along with a variety of bottle sizes for liquor. I use Grand Marnier in a few recipes at Christmas and don’t need a huge, expensive bottle of it.
- Sale rack finds at Anthropologie and Banana Republic. Two stores where I always walk straight to the sale section, as the regular prices are just laughable. Others must think so too, because the sale selection is always great!
- Girl Guide thin mint cookies (photo not available as I et them all). Synonymous with October for me.
- MEC raincoat with an adjustable hood that makes an umbrella unnecessary. Ha – that model is tall; it’s pretty much knee-length on me. I know there are similar stores to MEC over here, but they’re not MEC. You know?
- Toothbrush holder – why can I only find cups here? Gross! Honestly – with the no clothes dryers and the lack of airiness to your toothbrush cups, I think you Brits create a lot of your own damp issues.
Regrets, I have a few
- Didn’t make it over to Toronto Island
- Most days were hot enough that I never actually craved slightly stodgy but utterly delicious poutine, but now I’m kicking myself
- Didn’t visit The Caledonian (a Scottish whisky pub) but will console myself with another trip to Glasgow
I’ve gone native Brit-styles
Whereas here in Leeds most service people start off by paying more attention to my Canadian accent rather than what I am saying, I also noticed Canadian friends and family listening to me carefully for any trace of English accent. I avoided all uses of the words “queue”, “cuppa”, “football”, “walk” and “alright, lovey?” and think I did okay. But I’m sure they all still think I’m a pretentious twat anyway and who am I to argue?
But I did notice a few things that make more sense over here:
- Prices that are the actual price, tax included. I had to remember to mentally add Ontario’s 13% tax to everything before deciding whether it was worth buying or not.
- Ordering your drink and meal at the bar, paying for it and telling the staff member your table number. Cuts down on meal times by at least half an hour and still allows you to linger, but with less awkward gesticulating for the bill.
- More generous data plans on mobile phones – no need to ask for wifi everywhere you go
- Digital displays at bus stops advising when the next bus(es) will arrive. I think the TTC has jumped that hurdle by assuming that most people will just use an app on their phone, but the static bus signs at TTC bus stops and subway stations seemed a bit sad to me
- Not overheating stores and restaurants. I spent most of my time in Toronto removing my jacket due to overzealous heating that was at odds with the sunny, warm weather. But then, I also had fewer cups of tea. Hmmmm.
I also put to bed a niggling suspicion that cosmetics cost more in the UK. When I did a price comparison, adjusting the currency conversion and taxes added in Canada, I found that they aren’t that different, especially with a weakened pound. So there really wasn’t any need to stockpile Smashbox, Clinique and Benefit. It was nice to walk into Sephora for old times’ sake, but really, here in Leeds I have several department stores, Boots and the shops in the newly opened Victoria Gate.
And finally, the news I shared with everyone while in Canada, Jeff and I have decided to stay for longer than the original year as we are very happy here in Leeds!